I am always honoured to be invited to visit schools across Algoma-Manitoulin. Frequently I am invited to meet with secondary students taking civics and careers classes, but in truth I visit all grades from primary to college. One question I can almost always count on being asked is what I think is the most important thing that an MPP does. In short, I reply that it is to bring the collective voice of the people to Queen’s Park. In an effort to make life better for all Ontarians, New Democrats are proud to bring the thoughts, concerns and needs of our constituents to the attention of the Government, day in and day out.
Recently my colleague, NDP MPP Guy Bourgoin, presented a bill that would have improved winter maintenance of Highways 11 & 17 by upgrading their designation to class 1 highways such as the 400 series and Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) highways. Class 1 highways require contractors to remove snow to bare pavement within 8 hours of the end of a snowfall. Highways 11 & 17 are an essential link for people and commerce here in the North. When Hwy. 11 and the TransCanada highways are shut down, so are the lives of people who must travel to work, school, medical treatment and other important services. Closed roads mean thousands of tons of necessary freight and supplies are left stranded on the side of the road – escalating costs, depleting the consumer’s wallet and putting many business operations into jeopardy.
In addition to the inconvenience to people’s lives and havoc for business, poorly maintained roads costs lives. Each year too many Northern Ontario families and communities are shattered by horrific injuries and deaths. While we may be able to put a price tag on the cost to business operators, no such assessment can be derived from the loss of loved ones. Bill 125, Making Northern Ontario Highways Safer Act, would have gone a long way to reduce the horrific statistics. Northern drivers and their families have waited long enough.
My office receives many calls, letters and emails of complaint - not that there is snow or ice on the roads but rather complaining about the poor winter road maintenance services response in the North. Northerners expect bad storms and poor conditions. But they also expect Ministry of Transportation winter road crews to be out there doing their utmost to make the roads as safe as possible. But contractors only have to achieve the minimum standards.
In December of 2017 in the Legislature I raised this issue reading out the headlines of stories the people of Algoma-Manitoulin read in their papers:
“Highway 101 Open after Multiple Collisions”—multiple deaths; “Victim Identified in Fatal Collision” near Chapleau; “OPP Identify Man Killed in Wawa-Area Single Vehicle Crash”; “Man Dies in Collison on Highway 17, North of Wawa”; “Two Killed in Crash Near Massey; Three Others in Hospital”; “Driver Identified in Fatal Highway 17 Accident”; “Fatal Crash Closes Highway 17 at Whitefish”; “OPP Investigating Fatal Accident North of Elliot Lake”; “Two men died in a head-on collision in Sudbury”; “Multi-Vehicle Crash Closes Highway 17”; “Three Vehicle Crash North of the Sault”; Two-Vehicle Collision Snarls Highway Traffic.”
Unfortunately, the Ford Conservative Government unanimously voted against Bill 125, so it was quashed in second reading. Further, three Conservative Northern MPPs chose to be out of the legislature on other business to avoid having to be recorded voting against a bill that would benefit their own voters.
North Bay MPP Vic Fedeli said that the service level for Hwys 11 & 17 are based on the number of vehicles on those highways and their proximity to other cities. He went on further to say that Northerners do not need to have their roads to be classified as 1st class because these two roads are usually cleared in an average of just 7 hours. Well, some might be – perhaps the ones in Fedeli’s PC riding. Fideli posted on social media that, MTO has made enhanced public information a priority. Public messaging includes driving according to road and weather conditions.”
Recently Sudbury MPP Jamie West said, “People are white knuckled on unplowed, icy highways, and it’s even scarier when it’s your kids out there. Families don’t want to hear about the dollars supposedly saved by making us less safe. And families sure as heck don’t want to hear that the priority is ‘enhanced public information.’ Northern families want and deserve enhanced snow plowing and road safety."
I’m no statistical scholar, but I can tell you this; the problem with using averages is that they are not able to provide you with any actual record of incidents. They leave you with a very misleading overall picture. Do averages help us to understand the loss of a parent who is the sole breadwinner of a family? Do averages take into account the cost of losing a business, job or even worse, a limb?
The fact is, average numbers are highly skewed by localized fast responses. For example, you could have 100 reports that indicate response was complete in say 5 hours, but 100 responses that took over 24 hours to be completed. If you are in those areas that are below the average, what good does that do you? But mathematically the numbers can be skewed to look good. Averages tell you nothing about the actual incidents and often leaves one with a faulty overall understanding. Professor Aaron Levenstien says it best: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”
It was revealed that last year the government issued $291,000 in penalties against highway maintenance contractors who violated their service agreement, of which the largest penalties were levied against contractors in Sault Ste. Marie who also maintain roads in Algoma-Manitoulin. Such penalties are levied when contractors don’t meet the requirements to keep the roads safe, plowing the roads quickly after a snowstorm and salting the roads adequately.
It’s not even officially winter, and already Northerners have experienced road closures and learned of fatalities. Already people have been stranded on the road and freight delivery has been delayed. And the thing is, unlike most other regions, here in the North we have no access to alternative routes home. It is more than clear that the Ford Conservatives consider the safety and needs of Northern Ontarians to be second-class – both figuratively and literally.
New Democrats say the Conservatives are putting a price tag on the lives of Northern Ontarians. They dismiss these complaints as grandstanding and political gamesmanship. In truth, New Democrats see this matter for what it is – a matter of life and death.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député